Acting doesn’t have to be complicated or emotional to deserve our close attention, A simple thing like descending a stairway calls for us to actually do it slowly and analytically to find out just what happens.
Let’s try it:
On step one, we contact the stair tread with a straight leg and foot - we squash , as needed, for weight - then lift up to the height we need to pull our opposite leg through in anticipation of our next step down we drop into our step , contact the tread - squash for weight and again into the up anticipation to pull the opposite leg through - step down to the tread - squash for weight, and so continuing to the bottom of the stairs. Basically descending the stairs has quite the same pattern as does a walk on a smooth surface with its positive ups and downs, squashes and stretches .If we forget to use these basics we lose weight and believability, We slide down the stairs, the mood and situation our character is in will dictate our timing. He may be happy and bounce down the stairs. He may be deep in thought and drop into each step with a dejected attitude. In any case, the lift and fall in the step pattern must be positive.
Our acting abilities improve as our imagination expands and becomes more and more exciting. It comes about through interest, dedication and work. Remember Stanislavsky’s advice? "Imagination ," he said, "must be cultivated and developed; it must be alert, rich and active." He was talking to actors - he also talks directly to us. We should be involved in this pursuit every waking hour of every day. So much is going on around us! Let’s not let it go by unobserved.
But back to our acting, with some thought to this little problem: Maybe the character in our scene is a swashbuckling swordsman - a daredevil with talent and skill. We research the great romantics - the Flynns, the Doug Fairbanks, etc. We study their heroic actions, moods and poses. With what ease and flair they move! With what disdain they look upon the adversary! So far so good - we’re getting to know what makes this character tick.
Now the challenge. It so happens that the Goof is our daredevil swordsman. Now what? Caricature, that’s what! So we now take a good look at the Goof and his manners and ways.
In the early nineteen-thirties Ted Sears, one of the best storymen the Studio ever had, put down and analysis of the Goof:
" He is on the silly side and always harmless. he tries to do things in a way he considers clever - he always does them wrong, and ends up with a foolish apologetic laugh, He seldom loses his temper. Always have him go about an action in his own, particularly Goofy way. He does practically everything backwards and is amused at the results, even though he suffers from it. The Goof laughs at his mistakes or makes the most of an incidental happening."
Later, in 1939 in "Goofy and Wilbur" the Goof took on a very warm, emotional charm, so he does have his moments of pathos.
Now we have the Goof in the role of the romantic, daring swordsman, ready to exhibit his skills. He must be the Goof and he must have the movement and show of a Flynn of Fairbanks - but in his own Goofy way.
The Goofy challenge is not unlike those we face every day. In our work we, as animators, are constantly challenged to be consistently creative and entertaining. Maybe yesterday we were Mickey or Donald Duck or Jiminy Cricket. Today we might be Eilonwy, Taran, Scrooge, Willie the Giant or Gurgi - or even an inanimate chair come to life. Tomorrow maybe a Thumper, an ostrich, a dog, a Cinderella or a Captain Hook. Who nows? But whoever or whatever the character and the role, we must make it and its acting an important part of us. We are expected to no less and to perform with taste and sincerity.
So to the front must come our acting abilities to combine with all the other essential talents good animation demands. All are must important to our success and that of the picture we’re working on.
*Picture by Milt Kahl, for Disney's animation film "The Black Cauldron" (1985).